Monday, March 12, 2018

Intuitive Eating and Other Buzz Words

In my book, "Training on Empty," I mention intuitive eating, not in those exact words, but I address how difficult always tapping into our nutritional and dietary needs would be in the chaotic world in which we live. The idea behind intuitive eating is that our bodies have the wisdom to know what and how much we need, not just want, at any given moment. I don't believe it's possible or even necessary to be that grounded and in touch with your body and inner voice in order to recover, and I believe very few people who are normal and healthy do this 100 percent of the time. In fact, believing this is the answer to recovery can get people into trouble because our bodies aren't always 100 percent reliable when it comes to hunger cues, let alone signaling complete nutritional needs.

In saying this, however, I don't want to discourage anyone from being in touch with his or her internal signals. I'm all for giving yourself permission to eat what you want. I'm sure some will argue that they do fine eating intuitively, and I'm OK with that. It's great. I've always encouraged people to do what works for them. I'm just throwing out a word of caution for those who are in recovery to be aware of how difficult tossing out all dietary guidelines except your body's prompts can be. It's my strong opinion that using both intuitive eating along with some kind of relaxed meal plan is the best approach, especially for those taking their first steps toward recovery.

Once you're more solidly recovered, you have every right to choose what style of eating best serves you. Until then, it might take some work in order to understand and gather enough information in order to fully read what your body is telling you. Even then, I'm not entirely convinced that people can completely separate physical hunger cues from emotional cravings entangled in years of what society throws at us. My concern is that missed cues can lead to more missed cues, and that can lead to an increase in potentially dangerous behaviors. That's a lot of pressure on anyone. Learn to trust yourself, but also rely on sheer rational thought. The two work well together.

People like to claim that all children eat intuitively. They don't, or at least many of them don't. Parents unintentionally teach their kids to ignore their signs of hunger and often use food in some sort of a reward and punishment program, withholding food for bad behavior and offering goodies in exchange for good behavior. Even from a young age, kids are manipulated by a media that attempts to shape their food cravings. Commercials for sweets and fast food target youngsters. Big companies like McDonald's know how to direct content toward kids as young as four years old, and it's estimated that these kids see well over 200 of that particular corporation's ads each year.

I never ate intuitively when I was young, ever. Like many others, I was an emotional eater from a very young age. I was like one of those abandoned stray dogs that finally comes upon food and eats and eats and eats with no "I'm full" alarm alerting me to stop. As far back as I can remember, I had an intense hunger, at least I perceived it as hunger, that I couldn't seem to satisfy, and I never felt truly full. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that kids can't be wise about what they need, but reading hunger cues doesn't necessarily mean a child or adult will always eat the right foods in order to get adequate nutrition.

When not targeting young children, the media is busy promoting some fantasy or miracle plan for your diet and weight-related goals. On the one hand, we are encouraged to look a certain way, yet we are bombarded with images of decadent food and the false idea that we can eat whatever we want whenever we want and be thin. Oprah boasts about eating BREAD and PASTA every day while supposedly losing weight, like carbohydrates are some sort of taboo fare that only the very thin are allowed, and people suddenly think Weight Watchers has the answers to all their dietary needs. False.

People should be able to eat bread and pasta whenever they want. It's healthy to eat what your body craves, absolutely, but you also have to be aware that your body needs a wide variety of different nutrients, from protein, fats, and carbohydrates to vitamins and minerals. That's why having some loose guidelines without strict rules is better than diving into a complete free-for-all. Your size shouldn't really matter, but how your body and your brain operate depend a lot on what you put into it. A good dietitian will help you create a plan that focuses on foods you love and nutrient-dense foods that you might consider adding to your diet to increase overall health. Sometimes this kind of plan really does include bread and pasta on a daily bases. Ture.

I learned the hard way that eating sweets all the time caused me to crave more and more simple sugars, but when I ate a more reasonably sized daily dessert as part of a healthier meal plan, those terribly intense, out-of-control cravings faded. But that's my story. It doesn't have to be yours.

I love the idea of really listening to your cravings and honoring your hunger. I just think that it becomes complicated quickly to always rely on internal cues. It's a good goal to have, but there is no one definitive cue for hunger. People experience being hungry in a variety of ways, and one person can have varying internal cues. Some days, my body signals are clear and obvious, and other days, I have a hard time determining what I'm feeling. If I relied only on internal hints, I'm pretty sure I would miss some of them while navigating this crazy and often stressful reality called life. Sometimes I just have to look objectively at my diet and eat because I know I need to, not because an alarm inside has alerted me.

I'm the type that sees nothing wrong with having ice cream for breakfast or nachos for dinner now and then. I think emotional eating for comfort during horribly stressful times is not the worst thing on Earth, as long as you are aware and don't beat yourself up afterward. Obviously, learning healthy coping skills is better than turning to any kind of truly unhealthy behavior, but I don't see occasional comfort eating as anything abnormal. Those of us who have struggled in the past are so quick to judge ourselves harshly; the last thing we need is more pressure to eat a certain way. My suggestion remains the same that people should use what works for them. If there's no problem, don't fix it, but also don't assume that everyone else should follow the way you eat because it works for you.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


For whatever reason, my dip into the depression pool this spring is deeper and longer-lasting than in previous years. It doesn't help that my endometriosis symptoms have flared up and I'm still dealing with daily pain in my hips and feet. Managing pain on a daily basis is exhausting. Since I know myself well and know where the edge at the bank of the hellish black pit is, I'm not sitting back and doing nothing while waiting for my mood to improve this time. Sometimes riding out the downs on this rollercoaster is a reasonable choice; other times, it's not. It takes a lot for me to reach out, but I have, stubbornness be damned, for now. No, there's nothing anyone outside of the medical community can do. Depression is depression. I know how to keep myself relatively safe. I've been dealing with it since I was a child. Some months are just more challenging than others. Not turning to disordered eating during times like this is challenging, but I'm doing well in not swinging to any extremes.

When it comes to helping others, I often wonder what's most beneficial to those who are struggling with an eating disorder and want to get well. I don't believe there's one right answer. There are many groups that go about helping by simply sharing stories. I never found this approach helpful in terms of actual recovery, but it can be for some. It can also help people feel less alone, which is a step in the right direction. Oddly, when I joined a recovery group in college, I felt it kept me stuck in the disorder. The ladies in the group were so focused on their symptoms and stuck in their stories that nothing else was ever presented. Week after week, the same people would tell the same stories and go into the gory details, almost more to shock others than to offer any assistance. I find that a dialog is more beneficial, but everyone has his or her preference.

The longer I'm in recovery, the more I realize that if people are going to be more compassionate and accepting, it's society that needs to change. We live in a world that doesn't allow people to stray from the norm without being severely punished. This is especially true for women. We can't be too big, but we are also condemned if we swing too far in the opposite direction. At either end, we are called weak, failures, self-indulgent, or any number of other derogatory terms. Women have to walk an incredibly narrow path in order to be accepted, and we're all so obsessively aware of these fixed rules. Women mock themselves and others for having an appetite or being on a diet. People think it's acceptable, funny even, to suggest that all women feel fat, hate their bodies, or want to be thin. It's not. If you participate in this kind of rhetoric, you are so much a part of the problem.

It's unfortunate that we can't see the deeper issues behind being too big or too small and what "too" really means in each case. Who defines that point that goes beyond health, physical, emotional, and mental? How is the stereotype of "normal" identified? Who sets the parameters of how a body, someone else's body, should be? One out of many problems with the way our culture affects women's decisions around aesthetics is that those who fall even slightly outside of what's acceptable to the majority are pushed to the side more than those who walk the narrow line when both should matter and should be heard equally. The voice of someone who's considered too fat or too thin by an arbitrary and quite often absurd cultural standard still needs to be acknowledged, maybe even more so than those who fall in line and accept the status quo.

At my age, I never thought I would be dealing with anyone making unkind comments to me. Though it's not the same situation and unrelated to my weight, this kind of occurrence puts me right back into being the fat little girl who was relentlessly teased and bullied. I don't want anyone to ever have to experience the kind of torment I did or other people do for whatever reason. My childhood experiences left me afraid of confrontation, awkward around people, and uncomfortable in my own skin, no matter what my weight. As a society, we really, really need to stop focusing so intently on what others look like and appreciate more who they are and what they do.

Success really isn't a number on a scale, and you don't have to be a superhero to be successful. Another problem with society is the way it views achievements. The fear of mediocrity can keep anyone stuck or backsliding. What's so wrong with admiring people who participate in the daily grind, who get up day after day, go to work, keep their shit together and are generally decent people? The public is very greedy, needy, and self-centered. It's no wonder there are so many people who turn to eating disorders and addictions to cope. I wish I knew how to heal our very broken society.

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Little Compassion, Eh?

Last week was eating disorder awareness week. I noticed both positive and not so beneficial messages on social media throughout the event. As an eating disorder recovery advocate -- not an eating disorder advocate, a term I saw a few times and questioned -- I find myself looking closely at how others talk about recovery or about eating disorders in general.

It might seem like I'm straddling the fence on some of the issues I'm attempting to address, but these matters are complex. When it comes to the different types of illness and the different movements emerging, I can see the various viewpoints and the concerns of each. What worries me is the increasing lack of compassion with which people are voicing their ideas. I understand the outrage. Hell, how many times have I angrily hit the keys as I typed a blog post about people on Instagram promoting disordered behavior under the guise of healthy living? I keep looking inside to see where this anger is coming from, and while I know I want desperately to protect the world from the damaging shit that's out there, and there's just so much shit, I'm also willing to look at the possibility that the anger might go deeper than that.

Here's the thing; I will never know what it's like to navigate the world in your body with your mind, and you will never truly know my struggles. That being said, I'm not going to discount what you're going through simply because I haven't experienced your life first hand, which is exactly what some people, people I usually respect and admire, seem to be doing. Those of us who are advocates generally speak from the heart about where we are and where we have been. It's not always going to be all-inclusive, but it doesn't mean we are ignoring the reality of others.

I don't know the details about what went down between Geneen Roth and several other recovery advocates, but I assume this had something to do with diet culture, the assumption that Geneen wasn't using the "right" terminology when addressing weight. I saw a few posts from several different people indirectly addressing Geneen and wondered why, if these people were so offended, they didn't confront Geneen directly. I fully support HAES and the Body Positive Movement. What I don't support are those who try to tear down others who have been instrumental in helping people recover from life-threatening eating disorders, people, like me, who might be dead had they not read one of Geneen's books. For me, reading what she went through, even though she didn't have the same illness I did, gave me the tiny bit of hope I needed to keep going. Even if her language isn't perfect (and whose is?) she doesn't deserve to be attacked.

I love Geneen Roth's reply to one of the individuals who attempted to vilify her:

I’ve heard (thank you, those of you who have let me know) that someone who calls herself an emotional eating expert is posting aggressively unkind Facebook ads about my work and that they are popping up on your pages.
I’m sorry to hear this and would like to take a moment to respond, not to her particularly, but to the notion that tearing someone else down will build us up. That being mean and aggressive is a winning strategy.
We’ve all tried that one. We’ve all blamed and fought and, from a lost or lonely or desperate place inside, cut other people to shreds. Or at least, I have. And when I wasn’t doing it explicitly, I was thinking about doing it. Blame was one of my favorite strategies and make no mistake: tearing someone else down is a way to blame. It’s a way not to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own decisions, our own actions.

It’s challenging not to go to war, either with ourselves or with someone else. It’s challenging to notice when the voice in our heads takes over and says, “War is the only option. Being unkind is the way to go. It’s my turn and I deserve to win, no matter the cost."

Everything—and this situation is no exception—is a chance to question where we stand.

Do I feel personally attacked? No.

Do I feel the need to write to her and call her out? No. (See below about taking action.)

Do I notice that the tactic she is using is familiar to me and that I’ve done it many times myself? Absolutely.

Can I find the place inside me that wants to go to war with myself? Fight with the parts of myself I think would be better vanquished? (That’s the war part. "Let’s destroy what we don’t agree with and what will be left will be only the good parts." How many times have I done that, starting with "let me lose weight and what will be left will be a happy, relaxed, thin person").

At least a million times…

Which doesn’t mean I don’t take action or speak up for myself. I do. Often. Although in this case, many people have already contacted Facebook about the aggressiveness. Also, the ad has not popped up on my page and I would need to be served the ad in order to report it.
The bottom line is that in any situation, I look and see what action I can take and if it feels in integrity, I take it.
And all along, I keep questioning what in me gets triggered and reactive, turning towards those feelings with as much kindness as I can muster. And I keep strengthening my resolve to untangle what’s left of the web of self-loathing and blame because the less and less I do it to and in myself, the less I do it with anyone around me.
It's working. Sanity and clarity are constant companions these days.

I'm a straight, white woman. The only thing missing for me to be the ideal typical stereotype of an anorexic is my youth. I'm older now, so I no longer fit the stereotype. I'm also in recovery, but you get my point. Whatever your eating disorder, it's as painful, as potentially deadly, and as difficult to address as mine. It might even be harder in many ways if it means that you are also experiencing prejudice and discrimination. I fully understand that and want to help raise awareness around these issues and change the way society views anyone with an eating disorder, no matter what his or her size. What I wish others would understand is that talking about what I experienced is in no way meant to put my needs above anyone else's. I don't see anorexia as some kind of top illness to discuss at the expense of other disorders, and I know that straight, white women aren't the only ones struggling with eating issues. Eating disorders affect all genders, all races, and all ages.

I used to think we were all in the same boat, that anyone who could relate to the suffering associated with an eating disorder would show compassion toward others battling their own illnesses. The way social media is, people constantly spouting this or that belief or thought without any filters, I can understand why people feel vulnerable. I thought anyone who had lived through an eating disorder or witnessed someone else wrestling their demons would show complete compassion and understanding toward others. Instead, what I see is a lot of anger and resentment directed at an entire group of people, exactly what most recovery advocates claim to rebuke. I see that and a lot of shameless self-promotion. Self-promotion isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of the actual cause, I take issue.

The big thing now is to post about anger being a great motivator, which can be true in one way, but it's an energy that burns out quickly. I ran in anger for a while. I was fierce and determined, but I was far more successful when I came at it from a place of forgiveness and love. This is a hard topic to address because I don't want to make it seem like I don't understand the hurt and frustration of living in a fucked up society that shuns people based entirely on how they look. It's more that I want to point out that trashing someone else isn't as effective as simply stating your argument.

People talk about Roxane Gay having a sharp tongue, but her memoir "Hunger" is one of the most poetic, moving, honest, and thought-provoking memoirs I have ever read. Her tongue isn't really all that sharp; she's just more direct and truthful than most. At no point does she feel the need to unnecessarily tear anyone down, even those who nearly destroyed her, but she has no problem defending herself with her words. In her memoir, she simply shares her story, but this is a book that absolutely has the potential to change the way society looks at anyone struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating or even anyone who's different. I highly, highly recommend everyone read it.

Several times recently in my real life, not on social media, people have responded to me in unkind ways. I'm sensitive to this kind of behavior and don't react well to it. I tend to shut down. I will never quite understand when someone continually takes little or not so small digs at someone else or goes out of his or her way to make an inconsiderate comment. People tell me the problem lies with the one who chooses to be unpleasant, but it's hard to not take mean-spirited or judgmental attacks personally, even if I assume the issue really isn't me. I sometimes wish I could respond, "You, sir, may fuck off!" (Crime in Sports reference), but that's only because it would make me laugh, not because I aim to be as nasty back.

I guess all this rambling I've stumbled through is a long-winded way of saying, "Have a little compassion, eh?" 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Binge Eating

Recently, I was part of a panel giving a talk on eating disorders. The event was open to the public, so we got a nice mix of adults and children in attendance. Things went well overall, but some of the questions during the Q & A segment were a challenge to answer. This isn't because we didn't have the knowledge to answer but more because we are all products of our society and there are deeply fixed beliefs around eating disorders. It's incredibly difficult for anyone, struggling or not, to move away from the mindset that food is not the main issue when it comes to eating disorders.

Of all the illnesses we addressed, binge eating was the most challenging. Finally, there seems to be a better understanding around anorexia, that you can't simply force someone to eat. Unfortunately, with binge eating, people, even loved ones, are more likely to try to control the binge eater.

At one point during the evening, I brought up one of Geneen Roth's books in which she describes a child who kept gaining weight and whose mother was worried about her daughter's health. Geneen told the mother to give the child a pillowcase full of the girl's favorite snack food, which was M&Ms. Initially, the girl carried the pillowcase everywhere and ate as she pleased. She gained some weight in the process. When the mother kept reassuring her child that she was still loved and trusted, the child eventually began consuming fewer candies and leaving the pillowcase behind. I'm pretty sure some of the people in the audience were assuming two of us on the panel were suggesting that they give their kids unlimited amounts of candy. That wasn't the point of the story, and it's not something I would actually suggest. The story does illustrate a point, though.

What the story offers is a way to find out what the food represents to the child. Some believe taking the problem food(s) away is the answer, and others believe providing it in abundance is key. In the case of the girl in Geneen's book, the M&Ms represented trust and love, especially the mother's love. That's the underlying issue, but with binge eating, those close to the one struggling are desperate to find a way to fix the symptoms and fix them quickly. Nobody wants to see their child suffer, and the fear is that anyone who binges won't fit into the ideal beauty standard, the one that's unrealistic to begin with and generally unhealthy. There are also health concerns, like with any illness. We're all looking for that the magic pill, and parents can end up wanting to limit what their child eats. They want desperately to protect their child from experiencing ridicule and potential bullying if she ends up different.

I believe this kind of thinking, wanting to control someone who binges, is, in part, because of the way society looks at anyone who doesn't fit the "thin is beautiful" false narrative that's ingrained in our society. There's also the recognition that anyone, no matter what her actual size, who eats in secret, eats large quantities of food, or sneaks food probably experiences much guilt and shame, possibly for even eating at all and taking up space. You can imagine how being called out for these behaviors must feel to a child. As a society, we really need to remove the shame and guilt around our struggles.

Binge eating, any disordered eating actually, is never about willpower or self-control or a lack thereof. I can guarantee that anyone struggling with an eating disorder is tough. We have to be just to make it through the day sometimes. While I may not have the specific answers for each individual, I can assure anyone reading that the more the focus is on the food and trying to control it, the more progress will stall and backslide. In the last few years, there have been therapists who have spoken out, cautioning that a focus on the symptoms will only make matters worse. Their suggestion is to avoid all talk about food and weight and, instead, address the underlying issues. If the issues haven't been brought to the surface or are unidentified, focus on general likes and dislikes, look at identity, and practice goal-setting (related to life, not food) and saying positive mantras.

It's not an easy path for either the one suffering or the parents and loved ones. I often suggest that the family get therapy or support separately from the one struggling. Don't give up hope, though. As difficult as a supporting role can be, it's an essential one in terms of recovery. People with eating disorders need advocates. They need guidance and love, and they need reminders that they are worthy, no matter what kind of illness they have.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fuck Weight Watchers

Tabitha Farrar recently wrote an insightful blog post about Weight Watchers and the potential harmful effects that can result when dieting starts at a young age. This was in response to Weight Watchers' announcement offering free memberships to teens. Obviously, this company isn't considering the potential harm introducing dieting behavior at a young age can cause, so let me make one thing very clear: Weight Watchers doesn't give a fuck about you. It's a predatory agency that wants to target the vulnerable. I feel like I should insert George Carlin's "The American Dream" here. Big businesses don't give a fuck about you. They don't give a fuck about me, and they want to control where you put your money. They want your money, period. This new idea to lure kids into a weight loss program is called a recruitment plan, which implies that those running the business are looking for people to jump in early and stay for the long haul, not briefly test the waters.

I have addressed the business aspect before in a blog post focusing on Oprah Winfrey. Weight Watchers is a huge corporation owned by H. J. Heinz Company with branches all over the world, a corporation that wants people to believe it has the key to your happiness. The company's survival and the way it makes money is by supporting unrealistic beauty aesthetics, promoting diet culture, and pushing their "magic formula" of success for a price. Remember, if you fail at losing weight, it's because you're not following their program. The idea is that if you just buy their products, pay for their secret systems and plans, and keep coming back, you gotta KEEP COMING BACK (that's why it's great to start 'em young), you can be thin, which translates to happy, healthy, successful, perfect, and beautiful. But it's a fucking lie. Whatever Weight Watcher's is selling is not much better than snake oil.

Why do you think commercials for weight loss products and systems are strategically aired late at night and more heavily after the holidays? Again, weight-loss companies target what they view as vulnerable audiences, and now they are after your kids. 

If you take a look at their products, filled with excess sugar, artificial ingredients, and almost no actual valuable nutrition, you will see that the ingredients do not support health or weight loss for that matter. No sensible diet plan is based on the consumption of highly processed foods containing a lot of refined sugars and almost no quality protein. Look at the statistics on weight loss and dieting and ask yourself if the unspecified "studies" Weight Watchers often cites are credible and accurate. Does a short-term study focusing on adults who lost a tiny bit more weight on a diet plan than those who did absolutely nothing really mean that this company has the answers? Did these people in the so-called study keep the weight off for an extended period of time? Were they truly healthier, happier, and better off?

A healthy relationship with food can be taught, but it doesn’t include obsessively “watching” weight. It includes a focus shift away from beauty aesthetics and toward Heath and feeling good while trusting your body, not trying to have absolute control over it. Teaching people how to discipline themselves and restrict what they eat, stopping at one serving even if the body needs more, is diet behavior, not mindfulness and not intuitive eating, and these behaviors don't encourage health, physical or mental. 

I believe the founder of Weight Watchers, Jean Nidetch, had good intentions when she started her small support group in her apartment. Since she had success on the diet she created for herself, she wanted to share that with others. However, the focus was entirely on weight loss, how to stop eating cookies and slim down. I'm sure some of the advice the organization gives now is sensible, but there's no doubt that this is a business with a primary focus on aesthetics and making money. Though some claim Weight Watchers is an advocate for health, what it promotes and sells is the fantasy of looking a certain way and losing weight, and don't those who own stock in the company know that EVERYONE wants to lose weight?

Yeah, fuck that, Weight Watchers.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (9)


International suicide helpline:

National (U.S.) suicide hotline:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255


NEDA National Eating Disorder Association; 1-800-931-2237

ANAD national Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders; (847) 831-3438,

NABA National Anorexia & Bulimia Association; (402) 371-0722;; (866)-575-8179. Connects people with the appropriate treatment centers.

F.E.A.S.T. Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders


Lize Brittin:

Training on Empty

Geneen Roth:

How to Break Free from Compulsive Eating

Feeding the Hungry Heart

When Food is Love

Peggy Claude-Pierre:

The Secret Language of Eating Disorders

Linda Rector Page, N.D., Ph.D.

Healthy Healing


Other types of therapy:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - A type of psychotherapy that can be used to help people become more aware and accepting of their emotions and life experiences. It is designed to help individuals identify and develop a healthy relationship between their thoughts, emotions and their intellect. This can help reduce anxiety and help treat depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) -  A form of therapy that teaches individuals to identify and address negative thought patterns and core beliefs that contribute to these negative patterns. This type of psychotherapy teaches the skills needed to find healthy ways to cope with life situations.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) - This type of therapy combines both cognitive and behavioral methods of treatment as a way to help cope with painful emotions or memories. It relies on mindfulness and emotional regulation and is especially useful in circumstances in which there is conflict. This type of therapy is often beneficial to those who tend to react to stressful situations in extreme ways.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) -  EMDR is a type of therapy that aids in alleviating the symptoms and emotional distress associated with traumatic life experiences. It is thought to help the brain process past events more effectively and more quickly than talk therapy. During an EMDR session, the therapist will direct an individual to remember emotionally disturbing material in short sequential doses while simultaneously engaging in directed lateral eye movements and sometimes additional external stimuli as well. This is thought to help clients activate their own natural healing process.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) - This type of psychotherapy is designed to help individuals acknowledge and overcome specific fears and anxiety.  A person is gradually exposed to the feared object or situation with the idea that this will eventually have a desensitizing effect. It can also be used to help cope with an eventually overcome both fears and certain urges.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) - This type of therapy often helps improve body image and self-esteem. The main focus of IPT is addressing underlying personal problems, such as unresolved grief and role disputes. The therapy is designed to help people learn how to cope with stress and anxiety related to these issues.

# # #

A special thanks to the following women for their ideas on recovery listed below: Jennifer Crain, Eva Johnson, Lisa Schrump, Erinn Kathleen, Samantha Anne, Caroline Roggenbuck, Diane Israel, Kathleen Ensor and those who chose to remain anonymous.

Suggestion basket:

Whenever possible, have a friend or family member nearby to eat meals with, so that someone can help you be accountable. Have a pre-planned meal plan that includes a lot of variety and options that you can follow each day.

Treat yourself as you would treat others. When facing negative thoughts or anxiety, keep yourself distracted and engaged in things unrelated to food and the eating disorder.

Working the 12 steps helped me take responsibility and stop blaming others. Also, listing three good things every day helps keep my overall outlook positive.

Choose the next best action.

Recovery takes time and hard work. Be patient with yourself.

It takes time for the mind to catch up with the body. Heal your body, and your mind will also heal in time. Also, anticipate some discomfort in recovery.

Think of recovery like climbing a mountain. You will encounter hard, rocky sections that are so difficult, you feel like you want to give up, but if you keep going, you will reach beautiful stretches that are easy to maneuver. These sections are rewarding after struggling to get there. Know that you can keep going in the end.

What was a game changer for me was taking responsibility for changing my choices. It empowered me and gave me the ability to change, even if it sometimes felt uncomfortable. I also received coaching, and that has helped my development and helped me sustain recovery.

Cultivate compassion for yourself and self-love. Work on being aware.

Learn to trust. Know that food is not the enemy. It will allow you to heal. I had to get the right nutrition before I could work on the techniques in therapy that ultimately helped me recover.


Acid reflux -  Acid reflux is the flow of stomach acid back up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the stomach and the upper throat. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a more severe form of acid reflux.

Anorexia nervosa - A life-threatening eating disorder characterized by weight loss or abnormally low weight, distorted body image, restricted food intake, fear of gaining weight, and obsessions with weight, food and body.

Art therapy - A model of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through art used in order to encourage self-awareness, reduce stress, manage addictive behaviors and improve self-esteem.

Bloating - An abnormal full feeling and often a distention of the abdominal area usually caused by gas in the intestines, eating too quickly or overeating.

Bulimia - A dangerous eating disorder characterized by eating, usually large quantities of food, and then purging either by vomiting or by other means such as exercise or the use of laxatives.

Digestive enzymes - Proteins that catalyze reactions between other chemicals and ultimately help with the breakdown of food during the digestive process.

Connectivity - (Brain connectivity) A pattern of anatomical links and interactions between distinct units within a nervous system by way of neurons and synaptic connections.

Constipation - Infrequent or difficult to pass bowel movements that may also be hard and dry.

Coping mechanism (or coping strategy) - An action taken or conscious effort applied in order to reduce or better tolerate stress and conflict.

Core beliefs  - The main beliefs that generally arise from childhood experiences, personal disposition, cultural or societal influence and are assumed to be true for the person who holds them. They are the essence of how an individual sees himself.

E.D. or ED - Abbreviation for eating disorder.

Feelings chart - A chart, often with images, that helps identify various feelings and helps assist anyone struggling to identify what he is feeling.

Identity - A mental concept of how an individual views herself, including her self-image, individuality, core beliefs and self-esteem.

Inner child - The metaphorical child within each human being that represents the neglected, hurt or needy child of the past. In theory, an adult can provide her own inner child the comfort, attention and care she lacked as a child.

Long-term goal -  The ambition of a person for a future result, a goal that takes planning and time in order to accomplish.

Mantra - A word, sound or phrase that’s repeated frequently in order to aid in focusing attention and concentration in meditation and also one that helps express or change a person’s basic beliefs.

Nausea - A sick feeling often accompanied by the urge to vomit.

Plasticity - Neural plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new connections and pathways at any age.

Perfectionism -  A disposition that pushes a person to strive, often unrealistically, toward goals without allowing for anything short of the ideal. Failing to reach the often unattainable result often leaves a perfectionist feeling worthless.

Refeeding syndrome -  The potentially life-threatening metabolic and clinical changes that occur when a severely undernourished individual is rehabilitated at a rate at which the body can’t adapt. Those who are at the greatest risk of developing refeeding syndromes include anorexics, chronic alcoholics, and those with marasmus, chronic malnutrition or kwashiorkor.

Relapse - A decline in an individual’s state of health or mental health after a period of improvement.

Self-care -  Self-provision and self-maintenance without outside assistance. In recovery, self-care goes one step further in not only making sure basic needs are met but also addressing all needs, emotional and physical.

Short-term goals - The ambition of a person for a desired result in the near future, a goal that takes relatively little planning or time in order to accomplish.

Trigger - A trigger is an event, situation or anything that causes a reaction or response usually related to a memory or past trauma. It can be similar to a flashback that transports a person back to a traumatic past event. Triggers can cause a person to engage in harmful or addictive behaviors in an attempt to reduce the pain and stress around the memories that arise.

Visualization - A cognitive technique used to reduce stress, improve performance and focus attention on specific objects and events. Visualization can include using mental imagery to recreate experience, imagine a specific outcome or direct attention away from specific thoughts or situations.

“Yay scale” - A bathroom scale decorated in such a way as to remove any numbers and to foster positive feelings.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (8)

Family and Friends

“You need a really solid foundation of friends and family to keep you where you need to be.” -- Lilly Singh

Addressing family issues can be difficult. If at all possible, look into family-based therapy. Make sure that everyone is getting their needs met. As painful as it can be, sometimes people need to take a break from each other or create strong boundaries in order to maintain their optimal health. Try not to take someone needing space personally. Those who can be there for you will be, and if that’s not possible for some, it’s OK. Make sure you are getting the support you need from others in that case.

If you are a parent, a friend or a relative of someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, make sure you are also getting the support you need. It can be too easy to focus on the one struggling, but everyone needs support. In addition to the NEDA website, F.E.A.S.T. also has suggestions for those who are supporting others with eating disorders: 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (7)

Taking Action

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” -- Joel A. Barker

So often when it comes to thinking about recovery and change, it’s easy to say or think, “I can’t.” What would it take to change that to “I can” or “I will”? What is it that holds you back from being where you want to be in your recovery? Is it fear? What is the worst thing that can happen if you choose a different path today? Is it a realistic fear? Keep exploring what it is that holds you back.

There's a saying in AA that goes something like: First it gets easier, then it gets harder. After that it gets really hard. Then it gets easier again, and then you start to live. How can you start living? What kind of activity can you engage in that will help your recovery? What is one thing you can do today to support your recovery?

Some guideposts:

Honesty is crucial when it comes to recovery. You must be honest with yourself and with others. Write out a list of ways in which you hide or don’t tell the truth about behaviors or anything related to your eating disorder. In a separate column, write out your truths, things you know are true and would like to share with someone, if not today, one day. Remember, there is no shame in admitting your struggles. Everyone has had them, and it’s important to open up about them.

You don’t have to be great to be successful. We put so much pressure on people and on ourselves to be the best, to be number one. Instead, be unique. Be you. That’s more important. You can do great things when you are healthy, but start by first taking care of yourself and simply being and being OK with that.

Find your identity.  You are not your disorder. In my own case, rather than focus on what I was eating or how much I was exercising, I eventually had to turn my attention inward and ask myself what my passions were. I needed to rediscover what I liked and disliked, what my beliefs were and what stirred my emotions. In doing this, I started to better understand how I could move away from the labels that had bound me for so many years. I had to fight the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, too. My mantra became, "I am OK and everything will be OK," because I had so many fears and old beliefs running through my mind keeping me from believing that things would ever be even close to OK, let alone good.

Eventually things were good, beautiful at times, but recovery doesn’t mean perfection or perpetual happiness. It means you get to participate in the world again and be alive, really living and engaged in life.

Find, and rediscover, your passions. We all have them, and they can become so buried in our sickness that we either forget how important they once were or discount the idea that we can ever reclaim them.

Write out and describe your likes and your dislikes that are unrelated to the disorder. Reclaim yourself and your identity apart from the disorder. Think about what movies you like, what books move you and what music resonates with you. Explore what it is about a piece of literature, a movie or a song that makes you like or dislike each. Get to know who you are away from anything related to your eating disorder.

Develop personal mantras. What are your mantras? Find some positive affirmations, however pithy, that encourage and inspire you. Write them out and put them around your home, so that you see them often. Come up with positive mantras to use to counter any negative thoughts that enter your mind, even if it’s just thinking, or perhaps saying out loud, “STOP!” An exercise that can help with reconnecting with who you are and finding your identity is describing yourself in a positive way. What are the characteristics, the features and also the things you do that you are proud of or that you like? Are you kind, compassionate, intense or passionate? What do you like to do for fun? What features do you like on your body? What do you do or what would you like to do for a living? Write all of these out and keep adding to your description.

Explore your own recovery. Create your own path, one that is unique and works for you. Write down your goals. Describe your life in recovery and how you want it to be. When you have a picture in your mind of what you would like your recovery to include, you can begin to take steps to get there.

Join a support group or a recovery forum. Some benefits you get from a group is that you can participate in role playing activities. Sometimes just knowing there are others who have gone through similar situations is helpful. Mostly, though, sharing your thoughts and your struggles can be freeing. It can help you better understand your own illness and how to go about healing from it, and it removes some of the shame we often feel when we think we are alone in our struggles.

Become a mentor or find a recovery buddy. Set an example for others and guide them or give back in some way. You don’t have to be 100 percent cured to offer help to someone else in need. You matter. Say to yourself, “I matter.” Practice self-love and self-care by acknowledging how strong you are for having come this far. Always give yourself credit for surviving and getting through another day.

A relapse is not failure. This is vital. If you experience a relapse, look at what happened to get you there and look at how you can get back on track as quickly as possible. Ask yourself what was going on before things went awry and if you were under more stress or if you were feeling overwhelmed. Identify what your triggers are and find ways to move forward. Forgive yourself; this is essential. Get the help and support you need, but keep moving forward. Try to see a setback as learning experience, not an excuse to go backward.

It can be reassuring to know that you have the tools you need in order to recover or recover from a relapse. A bad day or a bad week does not mean you are back in the illness completely. You are always one small move away from getting back on track. No matter how hard it seems, you have the strength to do one thing to support your recovery, even if it means calling a friend or a helpline. You are stronger than you may realize.

If I could give only one piece of advice to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, it would be to hold on to the belief that a full recovery is possible. You may not know what that looks like, but the more you can imagine how you want your life to be, the more you can strive to make it happen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (6)


“I got tired of waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, so I lit that bitch up myself.” -- Anonymous

A lot of information regarding eating disorders exists online and in general, but not all of it is accurate. Be careful to look into research claims and any information that lacks explicit scientific backing. Bloggers might have good intentions, but not all of them are qualified to give advice about eating disorders and especially about recovery. Use your discretion. Mostly, when it comes to advice, use what works for you and discard the rest. When in doubt, check with a professional, your doctor or your therapist, to make sure anything you try is safe.

It can be difficult to say goodbye to an illness or addiction when, as in the case of eating disorders, it serves as a coping strategy. If, however, you are getting the security you need in a healthy way, it becomes easier. The safer you feel, the easier it will be to let go of the disorder.

Some ways to achieve this include:

Write a letter to your illness. Acknowledge how it served you, and then say goodbye to it. Observe how saying goodbye makes you feel.

Be as present and aware as you can in life. There’s a strong correlation between your thoughts and your speech and how you feel. The more you can switch your focus away from food, calories and exercise, the more you can allow yourself to be in the moment, and this is a way to temporarily forget your disorder. Aim to avoid triggering statements such as "I feel fat" and instead try to uncover what this symptom means. Often, this translates into feeling uncomfortable. Dig for the cause of the symptom rather than focusing on the symptom itself, and then seek out solutions in healthy ways.

Listen to your body. Do what’s sensible, and allow your body its voice. Watch how you talk to yourself and to others. Listen carefully to others who love you and choose your words carefully. When you judge others harshly, also take a look at what is going on for you. Sometimes when we feel uncomfortable with ourselves, we tend to project our own issues onto others.

Be patient with your own mind. Over time, the thoughts that seem so oppressive will start to abate and move to the background. Before long, you will begin to notice that these thoughts will completely disappear for short periods. Soon, the periods of time without the distorted thoughts will stretch into longer and longer segments until you can be more focused on living and less obsessed with what you are eating, how much you are exercising or how your body looks.

Challenge your core beliefs and fears. Keep exploring what rules you create for yourself and why. You set the rules, and you can change them. Some people who have overcome eating disorders explain that they think of their illness like a game in which they create rules by which they force themselves to abide, and, since this is the case for them, they have the power to change or relax the rules. This is your life. You are strong enough to create your own destiny.

I read of one young lady with an eating disorder whose observant mother noted that she slowly began to bend her own rules during her recovery. At first, she wouldn’t allow herself to eat outside of her planned meals, but she slowly began to allow herself a little bit extra, a taste of her favorite dish or an extra-thin slice of cake. These “extras” didn’t count for her. A few extra bites weren’t enough to break her rules, only bend them until she could get to the point where she wasn’t unnecessarily constricted by these rules, and could break them, change them or even get rid of them. Start with small steps if a giant leap is too scary at first.

Be grateful of where you are and what you have learned thus far. Keep a gratitude jar and fill it up monthly, weekly or even daily with events or anything for which you are grateful, as little or a big as it may be. Write it on a slip of paper and place it in your gratitude jar. Whenever you feel you need some encouragement, take out the slips of paper and read them.

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (5)


“At any given moment, you have the power to say, ‘This is not how my story is going to end.’” -- Christine Mason Miller

As you begin to heal physically with improved nourishment, you can begin work on overcoming your disorder more fully. Eating disorders are called illnesses for a reason; though classified as mental disorders, they have biological, as well as psychological, features.

Heal the past, and when you are ready, forgive yourself and others. Do this for yourself. Sometimes merely acknowledging what you went through and how difficult it was to endure is enough to begin healing from past traumas. And trauma can be different for everyone. What might seem like no big deal to one person can be incredibly upsetting to another. Processing the situation, healing from the damage and moving forward will make you feel more at ease in general. Express your pain regarding what happened in the past, and let it go. Then, do what you can to focus on the present.

Strategies always available to you include:

Be kind to yourself and to others. As much as possible, observe without judgment. This includes observing the thoughts and feelings you experience, especially those that come up before and after you eat. Ask yourself if the thoughts you have, especially those about yourself, are accurate.

Surround yourself with, and seek out, positive and healthy people. Are there people you admire who lead healthy and well-rounded lives? Who are your role models and who do you look to as an example of a positive role model? Look for role models who are accepting and who embody strength, courage and wisdom.

Notice and care for the child within you. Though you can’t go back and change the past, you can provide yourself some comfort and heal from the pain of past events. This includes making sure you are getting the attention, love and care you need now. You can give this to yourself in the form of self-care, or you can ask for help and encouragement from others.

Visualize the future, your future. Imagine yourself healthy and fully able and capable. Jot down a few of your life and long-term goals. Choose these goals over looking a certain way or staying stuck in the disorder. Any time you feel yourself struggling, remind yourself where you want to be. Accept where you are, but keep working on your short- and long-term goals.

Be gentle with yourself. Navigating feelings and learning how to process them can involve bumps in the emotional road. There isn’t a specific set of steps to take in order to go through an emotional experience. The main thing is to make sure you are expressing yourself in a healthy way and allowing your feelings to come to the surface. Though it might feel like your sadness or anger will last forever, do as Diane Israel suggests and look at these feelings like you would fluctuations in the weather. A bad storm rolls in, but it eventually passes. It’s a temporary situation. You can’t control it, but you can control your reactions. You will get through it. Write, scream or cry into a pillow, sing, dance, talk to friends, and do whatever it takes to make sure you are dealing with your emotions safely.

When I read about Jenni Schaefer and her book Life Without Ed, I was concerned that she advised people to compartmentalize their thoughts, as if they belonged to a separate entity, in this case “Ed.” I strongly believe that our eating disorders are very much a part of ourselves -- something we create and must take ownership of, not something to necessarily fight against; a set of actions and circumstances to understand and from which to learn.

There are times when it feels as if choosing to recover means fighting the urge to harm yourself. This is true, but healing comes from going deeper and addressing the underlying issues, not blaming “Ed” without delving into the whys. The technique of externalization, and using “Ed” (or some other name) to address your disorder, does help to identify the negative thoughts, though, and I fully support that aspect. If it works for you -- whatever works for you, in fact -- then use it.

When you are struggling, it can be difficult to determine whether a given thought is healthy. I don’t see anything wrong with labeling a thought “Ed” or any name you like, but, again, I would suggest taking this one step further: Look at why this thought is coming up, and determine how you can address or even counter it in a healthy, positive way. Try writing the thought down first. In a separate column, write out possible reasons why you think this thought arose when it did. Finally, in a third column, see if you can write something positive that opposes or disproves the negative thought.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (4)

 Body Image

“Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It's about knowing and accepting who you are.” -- Ellen DeGeneres

For many, a difficult aspect of recovery is body acceptance. In addition to dealing with any physical changes that might occur during recovery, looking at how you used and perceived your body during your illness can be beneficial. Look at whether you have used your body as protection: to hide or disappear, or as a barrier to others.

Is the dialogue between your mind and your body healthy and positive? How you talk about yourself can shed light on underlying feelings about your overall self-worth. Below is a list of exercises and some ideas designed to help you explore how you feel about your body and help you improve your body image.

I bring up nutrition again here knowing that when people don’t give themselves proper nutrition, it affects their thinking. In fact, after World War II, concentration-camp survivors were interviewed and found to have had a warped sense of body image. A body thrown out of balance is unable to perceive reality accurately, and not eating properly can create a vicious cycle of feeling uncomfortable with your body, restricting your intake, and feeling even more discomfort with your body as your perceptions become further skewed. Even though it’s easy to understand on an intellectual basis that our size shouldn’t determine self worth and value as a human being, accepting this emotionally is harder.

Aim for the center. As you choose life and choose health, a part of you may continue longing to look a certain way. Keep your focus on your recovery as much as possible. Healing doesn’t mean going to extremes. The idea that being healthy equals being fat is inaccurate. As you begin to recover, you will find comfort away from the extremes, and instead of seeing every issue only in black and white terms, you might find that there are many potential solutions to any given situation. Work on your self-esteem. Practice exercises in which you look in mirror and state outright, “I love my body” or “I love myself.” Analyze how this statement makes you feel. Repeat this exercise several times a day for at least 10 days, even if it’s difficult, and see if you begin to feel different by the last day. The goal is to eventually accept and appreciate this statement.

Define what beauty means to you. When you look at others, do you see only their outer beauty or is their core more interesting to you? Do you hold yourself to different standards than you do others? How does body size define your self worth, and do you believe it should? What are some ways you can begin to move away from the idea that size is an indicator of value or worth?

Stay away from triggering content. Whether it’s an image in a magazine, someone you know who isn’t supporting your recovery, or a website that encourages unhealthy behavior, make sure you understand that the beauty industry is trying to sell you products and will encourage you to see yourself as flawed. This is not true. The beauty standard is unrealistic, and often the images used in magazines have been drastically digitally altered. Always remember that you are beautiful the way you are.

Engage in affirmation exercises. Remember that focusing on your body can be another way to distract yourself from feelings or the past. Some good exercises to try around body image include repeating positive affirmations and art therapy. Affirmations include repeating positive statements such as "My body deserves love and respect" or "My body is perfect the way it is, and I honor it in this state."

Create artwork. Art, including drawing, coloring, making collages, sculpting, and painting, engages a different part of your brain than talking or writing does. Sometimes it can be helpful to process what you are feeling through art. It can also help situate you more in the moment, so you are focused on the act of creating rather than getting lost in thoughts around your disorder. Art therapy is designed to reduce stress and can give you a sense of accomplishment. It has actually been shown that creating art changes the brain. It improves brain connectivity and plasticity.

Avoid competition and comparisons. Every single body on this planet is different. Mark Twain once said, “Comparison is the death of joy,” and he was right. When we compare, we do so with inaccurate information. We never know the whole story when it comes to someone else. Comparing yourself to others can spiral downward into insecurity. Do your best to keep your focus on yourself and your own goals.

Keep ongoing lists. List the things you appreciate about your body. Write another list of what your body can do and how it serves you. Add to these lists as often as you like.

Forget notions of perfection. As much as possible, move away from the idea that you have to be perfect. The body positive movement has some wonderful ideas around avoiding shaming the body, and this includes your own. As Diane Israel, MA, observes,“Perfection is the core wound of anorexia.” She adds, “There is an underlying fear of failure that leads most addicts to seek control through other means."

Don’t indulge negativity. Other people’s comments can throw you for a loop. If someone makes a negative comment, don’t harm yourself because you feel hurt. Never use food or restricting as a punishment. Instead, reach out to friends, write about your feelings or tell the person how his or her comments made you feel. Treat yourself with extra kindness if anything like this occurs and upsets you.

Move away from numbers and the scale. Have a ceremony and toss out your scale or do what members of the Boulder Youth Body Alliance formerly run by Carmen Cool suggest and make a “Yay scale” -- one that’s artistically painted or decorated and covers up any numbers with positive affirmations.

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (3)


“There are realities we all share, regardless of our nationality, language, or individual tastes. As we need food, so do we need emotional nourishment: love, kindness, appreciation, and support from others.” -- J. Donald Walters

As a note of caution: If you are at a point where refeeding syndrome might be a concern, please seek medical attention as soon as possible. Also, eating disorders can affect hormone and electrolyte levels. In general, stress can affect your entire endocrine system, so check in with your general physician or an endocrinologist to make sure you are not experiencing any symptoms related to hormone or endocrine imbalance. Be sure you are following the advice of your recovery team and doctors as you look into these and any other suggestions. Only use what you feel safe using.

Food is fundamental to life, yet many see eating as the most difficult aspect of treatment, however essential it is for recovery. Healing starts with giving your body, including the brain, all it needs to nourish and restore itself, so that it can operate at an optimum level. You have to give yourself permission to eat. Any guilt or shame around eating, no matter what your actual size, must be countered with a reminder that food is a basic right that you deserve and need. Food and nourishment are primarily for the body but also for the mind and the soul, so to speak. And nourishment can take many forms when it comes to how you manage your body.

Moving toward health takes seeing yourself and treating yourself as a whole being. This includes the physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual bodies. We can’t expect the cure of a complex illness to be found by focusing on only one aspect of the disorder, however, when it comes to eating disorders, refeeding and getting proper nutrition, no matter what your disorder, is essential. Unfortunately, getting the right nourishment can be one of the scariest steps in the healing process. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the more the body is lacking nutrients, the more distorted thinking generally is. As an example, a person in the throes of an eating disorder such as anorexia will often feel fat. It seems counterintuitive, but this kind of distortion usually becomes less problematic as weight is restored and the right nutrients are included in the diet. In my own case, I constantly felt fat and uncomfortable in my body during my worst struggles, but when my weight returned to a stable level, I experienced fewer thought distortions and less negative thinking. In fact, the noisy, unhealthy chatter in my head went from being a constant annoyance to eventually slipping into the background to finally giving me peace as I continued to heal.

Whether your pattern includes restricting, binging and purging, or some combination, the ultimate goals in recovery are restoring health and experiencing life again. These are complementary goals: Progress in one eases the path toward the other. Refeeding can be a difficult step in recovery, and that’s why it’s safer to have support -- perhaps even in a hospital setting -- when you begin to eat after a long period of restricting or after eating inconsistently. Finding pleasure and enjoyment, even when it comes to eating meals, can happen. For those who believe they are eating too much and feel guilty, look at where these beliefs come from and how realistic they are. As Carmen Cool, MA, LPC says, “Your body, your rules,” so aim for both physical and emotional health as much as possible. Sometimes being healthy includes eating a chocolate ice cream cone in the middle of the afternoon with friends or having a second serving of potato chips with your sandwich.

It’s not uncommon to have an increased appetite as you begin to nourish your body. In fact, this is normal. Whatever kind of disorder you have, it’s so important to make sure you are getting enough protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates during this phase of recovery and that you have the emotional support you need. Cravings can feel scary, but the more you understand them and the more you listen to what the are saying, whether they are emotional or physical needs, the easier it will be to feel at ease when they appear.

I can’t stress this enough: The more support you have from family, friends, therapists, dietitians, nutritionists and/or members of support groups, the better. You don’t have to go through this alone. Knowing we are not alone is a comforting thought, and feeling supported can push us to make the changes we need.

The fear of not being able to stop or control the hunger once you begin eating regularly can be worrisome, but allow yourself time for your body to adjust to the changes and to the different foods you are now consuming. It can take a while for your body to heal and adjust to digesting food regularly again. Your metabolism will probably increase as you eat more and are no longer in a state of starvation. Even if you were not starving before starting your recovery, your body still needs time to get used to consistently receiving and processing the proper nutrients. Please trust me on this -- any uncomfortable feelings will subside. Have faith that the intense hunger will decrease once you get used to eating regular meals.

Honor your hunger, and don’t be afraid of it. Acknowledge it and learn that it’s OK to eat when you feel hungry. You don’t reach a moral high ground or display strength when you restrict and deny yourself what your body needs. On the contrary, it takes courage, conviction and strength to give your body what it desires when you are used to restricting or binging.

Often neglected in discussions about refeeding (or simply changing your diet) is the fact that troubling digestive issues may arise. Digestive enzymes, such as pancreatin and hydrochloric acid, can ease bloating, gas, and that uncomfortable full feeling while they help your body absorb more nutrients. Other symptoms, such as acid reflux, constipation, nausea, excessive hunger, or diarrhea, might require that you seek medical attention. With severe malnourishment, intravenous vitamin drips can be most beneficial. A high-quality multivitamin and mineral tablet – especially one that contains an adequate amount of zinc, a mineral that has been shown to decrease the symptoms of anorexia – is crucial when adequate daily nutrients are missing from the diet. Ultimately, the body is resilient and is able to repair itself when given the chance. Healing is possible. With proper nutrients and an improved mental outlook, complete healing can occur more quickly.

Keep in mind that no single diet will work for everyone. There is no perfect diet, and what is optimal for one person might not be for another. In addition, the diet you settle on now may evolve, and you may find that it changes as your comfort level around eating improves during recovery. Aim for a nutrient-dense diet, but move away from too many rules, especially ones that are too strict. Your diet should be something you create that includes a variety of foods. If you are unsure about what you should be eating, try seeing a nutritionist or dietitian to get you started in the right direction.

Food should nourish both the body and the soul, so to speak. Some people like the idea of intuitive eating, while others like to have a meal plan to use as a guideline. Be sure, though, that meal plans are suggestions only. You should be able to allow any rules around food to be broken when it means you are honoring your physical needs. It’s also OK to break rules just because you feel like it, but try to be aware and don’t beat yourself up about it afterward. It’s your body, and you are allowed to have a say in how and what you eat. This will become more second nature the more you get used to eating a healthy amount. During meal times, try to make your environment as calm and comfortable as possible with few distractions. Turn off the television, set the table, put your cell phone in the other room, and sit down, so that you can concentrate and be aware of the food you are eating and also be in touch with how you are feeling. Make sure you are addressing any issues that can make meals more stressful and cause an increase in anxiety. Try to make mealtimes stress-free. After meals, use either journaling or distraction to keep from feeling any anxiety related to eating.

Eating out and eating with others can be challenging when you are also dealing with an eating disorder. Not being able to control what you eat and eating in front of others might cause anxiety. Do your best to stay as calm and relaxed as you can. Part of eating with others is the social aspect, so do what you can do focus on enjoying the company you are with. For some, eating with others can actually help them feel more relaxed. Being with others can allow a person to feel safer with trusting that portion sizes are acceptable and with eating in general. Whatever the case, whether you see eating with others as a challenge or an advantage, push yourself to go outside of your comfort zone from time to time.

Fad diets, even those based on scientific findings, do not typically address the emotional aspect of eating. Whether you restricted, binged or purged, make sure you are addressing the underlying emotional issues related to your particular disorder. Always remind yourself that you are deserving and need food to survive. There should be no shame or guilt around eating. Fad diets might give you quick weight-loss results, but they don’t teach you how to listen to and trust your body and its needs.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying your food. Many cultures celebrate and use food as a way to socialize. Food can be a way to create warm memories when we learn to get past any disordered thinking around it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook (2)

What It’s All About

“Count your blessings, not the calories. Weigh your options, not your self-worth. Starve your self-hatred, not your body. Hate the disorder, not yourself.” --Anonymous

Understanding some of the contributing factors that led to your illness and getting to know the driving forces behind any unhealthy actions and urges can help you heal. For many individuals, eating disorders are a coping strategy, a logical way to feel safe and in control in a chaotic environment. We are not able to control the world around us, so those of us who are susceptible to eating disorders will often turn to unhealthy and even dangerous behaviors as a way to give ourselves a false sense of control or to distract ourselves from reality.

Throughout your recovery, you must continually ask yourself, “What is driving these unhealthy thoughts” or “What’s behind my self-destructive actions?” Your thoughts and actions are a symptom of something deeper. What is going on in your life now, or what happened in the past, that is pushing you toward engaging in disordered eating? Always ask yourself if you are hungry (physically or emotionally), angry, lonely, or tired (the HALT question common to numerous recovery programs). Ask yourself what additional stresses you are facing, and never be afraid to ask for support.

If you have trouble identifying your emotions, use a chart of emotions or a feelings wheel, such as this one: Go through a list and ask yourself if the descriptions on any of the emotions on a chart fit with what you are experiencing. Try your best to describe what you are feeling in a journal or diary. Sometimes the mere act of describing what you feel can ease the actual feelings. Try to distinguish between what you are thinking and what you are feeling. If you have ever lived with dysfunction -- and almost all of us have; whether it’s in the family, with friends, a coworker or with a significant other, truly healthy and functional relationships are rare -- chances are that you learned at some point to suppress your feelings. When we shove our feelings down and can’t fully express what we feel, we end up behaving differently. Over time, discounting and continually holding in emotions can even lead to feeling physically sick.

Many other conditions, such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), are often comorbid with eating disorders. In fact, quite often, treating an underlying condition such as depression helps with the treatment of an eating disorder. Antidepressants, either synthetic or all-natural (e.g., SAM-e, TravaCor, or St John’s wort) can take the edge off the depression and anxiety that often accompany an eating disorder. If possible, work with a therapist, doctor or someone in the medical field who can determine if you are dealing with a mood issue with roots outside your eating disorder. Don’t be afraid to try suggested medications if your treatment team feels it’s necessary.

Above all, give whatever you try or whatever therapy in which you engage time to have an effect and communicate with your treatment providers how you are feeling along the way. If this is difficult, look into finding a patient’s advocate to guide you.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook

I decided to post the recovery handbook I wrote recently. It's my belief that more people will benefit from it if it's free and easily accessible. Hopefully some people will still purchase it on Smashwords, Amazon, or any other book outlet. Still, I would rather put the information out there in the hope that it will help someone in need.

I will post at the rate of a chapter a day or so. If you would rather purchase the book, please click on one of the links below:





Tips and advice about how to recover and heal from anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, OSFED and binge eating

anorexia recovery
Find your own path to recovery

By Lize Brittin

Edited by Kevin Beck

Eating Disorder Recovery Handbook
Lize Brittin
Edited by Kevin Beck

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Copyright 2017 Lize Brittin

All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author.

Thank you for respecting the author's work.

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What It’s All About
Body Image
Taking Action
Family and Friends

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 "There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn't matter anymore." -- Laurie Halse Anderson When I first started writing my memoir Training on Empty, it was partly to tell my personal story but mainly to offer hope and inspiration. I wanted to show others that recovery from anorexia and other eating disorders is possible. Not long after I wrote the book, I started a companion blog. As I have continued to build this over the years, I discovered anew that recovery is a process. Every year, I grow and learn new lessons. Recovery, a bona fide full recovery, is possible, but it takes staying one step ahead of the illness. It requires recognizing patterns and triggers, and finding new coping strategies in order to stay healthy. Most of all, it takes radical trust in yourself and total self-respect to truly get over an eating disorder. For over 20 years, I struggled with an eating disorder, primarily anorexia. It was a severe case, one that nearly killed me, and I spent time in hospitals, went to therapists, read books and even tried countless alternative therapies, all in an effort to overcome my illness and mostly in vain, though I can’t discount all I was able to take in along the way. I felt like I was on a quest for a magic pill. I was looking for answers outside myself, sure that something or someone could make me feel better. The more the illness consumed me, the more frantic and concerned my friends and family became. Their emotions ranged from frustration and anger to sadness. On some level, I understood that, in a way, I was choosing this agony, much like an alcoholic chooses to drink, but I felt completely stuck, unable to help myself. I knew there was a way out of the hell I was creating, but I couldn’t see how to free myself. I felt like I was in prison, but people kept saying I had put myself there. How could this be? On an intellectual level, I knew what I needed to do to get well, but I couldn’t seem to make a move, any move, in the right direction. My mom, who had overcome terrible hardship in her life, kept telling me that in order to recover, I had to want to get well, really want it. The results of the changes I envisioned were appealing, but putting them in place seemed impossible. It meant letting go of certain behaviors, my unhealthy coping mechanisms. Food to me was never really related to hunger. Early in my life, I ate for comfort. Later, I restricted to gain a sense of control in what felt like a stressful environment. My eating disorder was like a security blanket, a deadly one. In her book, “Eating in the Light of the Moon”, Dr. Anita Johnston offers a wonderful analogy. She describes a scene in which a girl is struggling after falling into a river and gets swept downstream. She is overwhelmed and can't swim to shore. In a frantic effort to survive, the girl grabs onto a log. This log keeps her afloat, but it’s also pulling her further down the river. Meanwhile, people on the banks of the river see a simple solution: let go and swim to shore. The people shout at her to let go and swim, but she's too afraid to let go. She has convinced herself that she needs the log. It did initially save her, after all. The problem is that the floating lumber is now carrying her away and may eventually take her into dangerous waters that will ultimately drown her. Obviously the log in the story represents the addiction or disorder we choose in order to cope. It can be addiction, eating issues, bad relationships or any coping method that isn't healthy. It serves us in the short term in the sense that it offers us a way to feel like we are surviving in a chaotic situation, but it's not a comfortable way to live. In fact, it may kill us in the end. For anyone struggling with these issues, it's important to ask what purpose the illness or addiction has served. What does having the disorder keep you from experiencing? Why are you drawn to the disorder, and what security does the illness provide and at what expense? It's impossible to swim to shore without strength. Coping not only takes courage but also a different way of looking at a situation. Often in recovery, relapses occur because the core issues are being ignored. Every time those of us who are prone to eating disorders feel overwhelmed, it becomes too tempting to grab the log again. In order to get past the urge to revert, we must discover who we are. In doing so, we begin to recognize our own strength. Whether I was eating too much, not eating enough or eating and purging through exercise or otherwise, food was a way for me to cope and avoid negative feelings. My disorder was a distraction, something I used to avoid dark feelings and thoughts. Whatever I did with food took my attention away from the situations in my life that were beyond my control and placed it on something more tangible, at least it felt this way initially, but the rules I created for myself were too strict. I was becoming too rigid, and eventually, I got lost in my illness. I became completely numb to the world around me, experiencing only the turmoil and pain of the illness. Such a magic recovery pill has yet to be invented, literally or metaphorically. Instead, after many years of struggling, I found enough courage to take a first step toward something different, and that was what eventually propelled me onto a path of health. That’s all it took, a simple decision to do something different, to try a different path and listen to the small part of myself that had been begging for change. A friend told me to try something, anything different, and at first I thought it would be impossible. I could always go back, she assured me, but I found once I did try something else, something less self-destructive, I didn’t want to go back. Why was it so difficult during those hard years to listen to that voice, the healthy, sensible, rational one that wanted peace? I wish it had been simple, but that’s not to say it can’t be for some. It took many years of struggling in a whole new way before I could really embrace recovery, however, the decision to try happened in an instant, not unlike my decision to innocently go on a diet in order to gain some control of my life, or so I initially thought. What I hope to offer here is not so much a step-by-step guide to recovery but more a book of suggestions that anyone can consider at any given time during recovery. We are all unique, so what works for one person might not work for another. There are, however, key issues to address that can potentially help anyone reclaim health. Recovery is not linear or sudden. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are ups and downs, but there can be an overall positive trend despite any lows you might face. There’s a saying that I and many others have found to be true: Our worst days in recovery are far better than our best days in the throes of the illness. Any hardships in recovery are worth it when you get to experience more freedom in recovery. Eating disorders are not a choice. There are genetic factors, physiological components as well as environmental, emotional and mental aspects to consider. These illnesses are extremely complex, and recovery is not as simple as making one decision. Heading into recovery, however, has to begin with intention, a step, no matter how small, in the right direction, a willingness to try something different when you know what you’re doing isn’t working. A person reaches wellness by making multiple choices on a daily basis, but beginning the journey can be as simple as making a declaration about or a commitment to recovery. Your initial decision must be followed by renewed dedication and actual effort to support the end goal every day. It does get easier, though, and recovery is possible. It just takes patience and a lot of hard work.